Ask Dr. Phelan: Early Riser
This question is from Amel, and it has to do with her three-year-old.
Q: What do you do with a child who frequently wakes up in the middle of the night or early morning?
Amel writes, “My three-year-old wakes up too early: between 4 a.m. and 4:30 a.m., even on weekends. He goes to bed between 7:30 and 8:00 p.m. He sleeps through the night in his crib. He shares a room with his one-and-a-half-year-old brother. He wakes up and comes straight to our bed. We let him sleep with us maybe because he will actually sleep most of the time, but he tosses and turns. We have a routine that we are following each night where he puts on his PJs, turns the lights off in all the house, and then goes to bed. We hug, kiss, and say good night.”
Option #1: Change the sleep conditions
Sometimes in these situations, we can move the bedtime back in the evening about half an hour or forty-five minutes. You may not like that because that cuts into your free time, but you could consider doing it.
You could also consider putting a floor fan on in the room. That's for the white noise, not for the wind. That might help him sleep.
Also, make sure any early morning light is prevented from getting into the room.
Option #2: Treat it as a nighttime waking problem
If you look at the chapter in the 1-2-3 Magic book on bedtime and nighttime waking, you'll find that when the kid comes in in the middle of the night, you assume they have to go to the bathroom or need a diaper change or something like that. So that's what you do, with no talking, no emotion, and no lights. When that's completed, you take them back and put them in bed.
Now here's the touchy part. When you put them in bed, they may not want to stay there. This kid is used to sleeping with you, and he's not going to like that. What you do is sit by the bed until they go back to sleep. That's the totally unfun part.
You don't want him waking up the other child in the room. That may happen. He may put up a fuss because he's not used to doing this, but look up the nighttime waking chapter. It's a procedure that has to be done religiously. No lights, no talking, no emotion, etc.